The flutter of a warm kiss on her temple nudged her from the sweet sleep and warmth surrounding her. She fluttered her eyes open, the warmth enveloping around her again as her gaze collided with his. Giving him a sleepy smile, Tamar stretched out her limbs beside him. ”Mornin’…”

That smile and languid stretch made him wish he had nothing to do other than lie around with her all day. “Keep smiling at me like that and I’ll be late,” he warned , only half-teasing.  Did she realize how attractive she was smiling at him through those sleep laden eyes?

His disheveled hair, his sleepy gray eyes made her want to pull him in for a slow morning kiss but he was already running late. Tamar lifted herself on one elbow. ”Long day?”

“Yeah.” He paused in swinging his legs over the bed and turned back to take her lips in a soft, warm kiss. “I need something to get me through the day. I’ll pay up later.”

Tamar smiled against his mouth, placing her hand on his shoulder. ”You know I will collect.” Then she gently pushed back. ”Get going…” She said, wanting him very much to stay, wanting more of his morning kisses and snuggling. ”Text me if you have the time.”

He lingered, stealing one more kiss before allowing her to push him away. “Are you free for dinner tonight? I promised Crys she could have me and she wants to meet you.”

Tamar smirked. ”Meet the family dinner? Sure, count me in.” She reached up to smoothen hair that stood in places atop his head. ”I want to meet her too. No weird clothes, huh?” She said in slight teasing, already planning her wardrobe to meeting Dylan’s younger sister.

“You manage to look good in pretty much everything, but I gotta say I really like this.” He let his eyes roam over the outfit from the night before. Just looking at her made him want another kiss. “I think I’ve got a few minutes…”

Tamar laughed gently and slipped her arms over his shoulders, her palms pressing against his back as she drew him in for another kiss. ”You owe me two songs and counting,” she pressed light, fleeting kisses against his mouth.

“Nu-uh. You took those. You owe me some songs,” he challenged between kisses.

”You’re the singer here, not me.” She smoothened his hair with one hand. ”Don’t go switching roles on me.”

“Then those are free. You just want me in debt. Guess I’m gonna have to keep an eye on you.” He groaned when his phone went off again. “Dinner,” he repeated. “I’ll call as soon as I get out of practice. One more.”

”Since you asked, this one is free…” She slanted her mouth over his and pulled him close for a moment before firmly pushing him away. ”Leave before I make you late.” Tamar smiled up at him. ”I’ll see you at dinner.”

“Why’s being late so bad again?” he asked grinning at her and sticking his feet into his sneakers. “Be good today.”

She smirked up at him, lifting a hand to push the tendrils of hair from her face. “I’ll try,” she replied smartly, leaning back in the bed. “You do the same.”

It was a fight to keep from going back to the bed. Making his feet move in the opposite direction took more concentration than it ever had before.  “You’re already being bad,” he said as he backpedaled toward the door. “At least try to miss me a little.”

“Already do, Sinatra,” Tamar countered softly, watching him through heavy-lidded eyes as he pulled open the door. “Be a good boy today,” she said, pulling the pillow beside her into her arms to take Dylan’s place.

“You know how to make it hard for a man to leave. See you at dinner,” he promised and pulled the door shut behind him before he could change his mind.

Tamar smiled, snuggling against the pillow which had retained Dylan’s scent and his warmth. She hugged it tightly, burying her face in until she eased back to sleep.

A sharp rapping at her door jarred Tamar awake from the peaceful sleep. She frowned for a second, blinking at the pillow pressed against her face. She’d been dreaming of another one of Dylan’s sweet kisses. As the knock sounded again, Tamar smirked sleepily. Did he forget something?

Kicking her feet over the bed, Tamar stood to her feet and shuffled to the door. “What did you forget–” she pulled open the door and felt her stomach plummet at the sight of Neecy’s disdainful glare on her. She gripped the edge of the door, her jaw clenched even as she offered a smile. “What brings you to my door this early in the morning?”

Neecy snorted, nudging the door with her foot. Tamar rolled her eyes and kept her hand firmly on the door. The girl narrowed her eyes at her. “What’s the matter? Visiting hours over?”

Tamar frowned, feeling the cold trickle down her spine. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh come off it, Muffet… We all know you had someone sleep over tonight. Now tell me who it is before I squeal to the RA.”

“You already know who it is, so why ask?” If Dylan sneezed in Alabama, Neecy would’ve heard all about it. It was undoubtedly clear that the girl was  into anything Dylan and hated anyone, especially Tamar, for grabbing his attention. Tamar tucked in an amused smile as anger flashed in Neecy’s eyes.

The girl’s jaw worked as she fought to find words to counter Tamar’s quick tongue. “You think you’re something special don’t you, Muffet?” She drew her arms across her chest, slanting one hip. “What, you think he’s actually that into you?”

“Looks like it.”

Neecy narrowed her eyes into dangerous slits of fury. “Listen here, Mental Malek. Just because you put on normal clothes and fix your mess of hair doesn’t mean Dylan is interested in you. Since you’re making yourself overly available, he doesn’t have to try to win you over–”

“Hey, watch it,” Tamar cut the rest of her acrid words, the sting piercing deep. “For someone who worships the ground Dylan walks on, why are you saying such horrible things about him?”

Neecy smirked, eying her with utter disdain. “Stop this ridiculous farce, Malek. I know all about your past, what you are. You don’t fool me with that injured lost innocence like you’ve got the entire campus believing.” She raised a shapely brow. “All that hiding behind baggy clothes and unkempt hair, I know there’s a cheap, soiled mental case lurking in there.” She jabbed one finger at Tamar’s chest

“Get out.”

Eyes dancing with triumph as she heard the tremble in Tamar’s voice, Neecy giggled sharply. “What, because I know all about you, you’re scared?”

“If you don’t step away from my door, I’ll help you leave,” Tamar said calmly, her voice low and threatening, even though her fingers shook behind the door.

Neecy sobered instantly, her glare dark and ominous as she took one step forward. “Leave Dylan alone. Don’t you dare soil him with your untouchable, undesirable person. He doesn’t need you ruining his present and future. Because guess what, if he doesn’t succeed, the entire world will blame you. And trust me, he will too.” She smirked. “I doubt any spreading of your short, unattractive legs will do anything to remedy that now, would it?”

Tamar was doing all she could not to jab her fingers into Neecy’s eyes. Her jaw was clenched so tight, her body throbbing just to hold herself together.

Neecy nodded approvingly at Tamar’s silence and stepped away from the door. “Try to have a good day, Tamar. And take my warning, I’m only trying to help you.” Flashing Tamar one quick, triumphant smile, Neecy tossed her hair over her shoulder and sauntered down the hall.

As the echo of Neecy’s heels clicked all the way down the hallway, Tamar’s shoulders sagged. Quietly, she nudged the door close and leaned against it, staring at the bed across the room. At the sound of Neecy’s taunting words echoing against the clicking in her ears, Tamar pressed her hands to her ears and counted to twenty until the anxiety ebbed away.

“What a slimy wench!” Bekah slammed her hand on the desk. “Argh, I just want to pull out that peroxide stained hair and show the world the ugly witch inside.”

Tamar shook her head, pulling out a sweater from its hanger and draped it over her shoulder.

Bekah peered up at Tamar who still hadn’t said a word after recanting the awful tale over breakfast. “You can’t stay here, Tamar. That witch won’t leave you alone if you keep seeing Dylan.”

She’d expected this already, known that Neecy wouldn’t just sit back and watch her cozy up to Dylan. She’d practically invited the girl to attack her the way she did. It wasn’t so much the fact that Neecy hated her but that she’d found a way to twist the reality of her past and make it evident in her present, something she’d tried to forget for years now. Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Tamar shrugged her arms into the sleeves and tugged the collar up. “Let’s go. I don’t want to be late for class.”

“Come stay at my dorm,” Bekah pleaded softly as she stood to her feet, following Tamar out of the room. “There’s not much space but we can manage. I don’t want to even think that Neecy will keep harassing you. Maybe you should tell Dy–”

“No!” Tamar said firmly, whipping around to glare up at Bekah. “Absolutely not.” She gritted her teeth, her body stiffening at the thought of him finding out everything. What if he looked at her with disdain like Neecy had or pulled away, thinking that she’d lied or tricked him into being with her? She shook her head, steeling her jaw. “You are never to tell Dylan or Tonio or even my parents or yours or your invisible friend about what just happened. You hear me?”

Bekah raised a brow. “What invisible friend? Frankie or Herbert?” She smiled when Tamar narrowed her eyes at her. “Okay, okay. I won’t breathe even a sigh about what happened…” She frowned as Tamar turned on her heels and walked ahead of her. “Even if this is a bad idea, I promise I won’t tell him.” She shook her head and trudged after her cousin, worry brewing in her mind already.

By the time practice ended, Dylan was anxious to get home. Two of the most important women in his life would be meeting in less than a few hours.  Intellectually he knew Crystal had rarely met a person she couldn’t get along with but he was worried all the same.  He sent Tamar a quick text letting her know dinner would be ready within the next thirty minutes just as he walked through the door and was greeted by the sight of his baby sister pouting, her hands propped on her hips as she tapped her foot impatiently.

“You know, my mother assures me I have an older brother but I’m not finding a lot of evidence to support that. I haven’t seen the guy in years.”

Guilt and amusement warred for first place within him. “I’m sorry, I was going to come get you. Let me guess. You called Tonio and buttered him up?”

“I didn’t want you to have to drive across town after practice,” she said innocently, wrapping her arms around him and squeezing tightly. “And I might’ve been a little extra curious about the new girlfriend you ditched me for.”

He brought his arms around her and squeezed just as tightly. “I didn’t ditch you, peanut.  The schedule’s just been tight but I’ll do better about clearing it. Promise.”

“Don’t feel bad, Dill. I was just teasing.  I started on dinner.”


“It wasn’t a big deal. The chicken will hardly take more than a minute.  Besides, I already started so you’ll just have to suck it up. Why don’t you go get all nice for your girlfriend and leave dinner to me?”

He rolled his eyes and started for the dresser but stopped and turned back to face her. “You’re okay with this, right?”

“What? You having a girlfriend? Dill, you’re the only one who’s ever felt like you’re not allowed to have a life outside of me and Mom. I’ll let you know just how okay I am with it after I meet her.”

He shook his head and grabbed a fresh set of clothes before ruffling her hair on his way to the bathroom. “Be careful kid. You’re starting to sound like an adult.”

She stuck her tongue out, relieved to hear him laugh with little restraint as he continued on his way.  Yes, she wanted to meet the woman who’d managed to convince her serious older brother it was okay to have a little fun.

<<Chapter 15 || Chapter 17>>